How To Support Your Child With Food Anxiety
Food anxiety or avoidance is a common issue in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Global Developmental Delay (GDD) as well as other learning and developmental needs.
If not addressed early, food anxiety can have longlasting impacts on your child’s physical health and nutrition as well as mental well-being. However with early intervention by a trusted child therapist in Singapore, you and your family can learn useful long-term strategies to support your child in achieving healthy eating habits.
Causes and Symptoms of Food Anxiety
It is important to note that while many children experience picky eating during their early childhood, food anxiety occurs when a child becomes severely selective about their food.
Severe food selectivity is typically charactertised by substantial weight loss, failure to gain weight, nutritional deficiencies, or if it affects your child’s social habits and functioning; in contrast, picky eaters are able to maintain and meet healthy growth and weight parameters.
Another common misconception behind food anxiety is that it stems from anxiety or excessive worrying surrounding one’s weight or body image. However for children with higher neurological needs, food anxiety is typically caused by:
Sensory overload when feeding or swallowing
Poor or underdeveloped impulse control (such as in children with ADHD or GDD)
Physical issues such as chewing difficulties, dental caries, or acid reflux
These sensations can be overwhelming for young children, leading to feelings of anxiety or fear and negative associations with the process of eating. Without early intervention it’s possible for these symptoms to develop further into Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) which can lead to poor nutrition and growth.
Symptoms of food anxiety may include:
Repulsion or anxiety due to smell, taste, texture, or other aspects of food
Physiological symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shakiness, or rapid breathing during mealtimes
How to Help and Support your Child with Food Anxiety
If you notice your child exhibiting food anxiety symptoms, a child development assessment can help to determine and understand your child’s needs. It’s also the first step to developing a long-term plan which may involve one or a combination of services like Early Intervention Programme, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Child Psychology sessions to empower your child with essential skills for day-to-day living.
Apart from structured sessions with a professional child therapist, it is essential to support your child’s progress at home. One approach suitable for children with food anxiety is the Get Permission Approach, which takes a responsive and permission-based approach to feeding based on clinical experience and research.
Other strategies that can help support your child include:
Exposure to food through sensory-based treatments (e.g. encouraging your child to touch, smell, or taste food even if they don’t finish it)
Introducing new foods with preferred or favourite foods to lessen anxiety over changes to diet
Exposure via offering new foods without expecting your child to eat the food at first
One-bite rules that encourage and reward your child for taking just one bite of a new or non-preferred food
Many of these strategies rely heavily on time and patience, so it’s important that as the parent or caregiver you are also able to control your emotions during the feeding process.
Your child may take dozens of sessions before finally feeling comfortable to try a new or non-preferred food, or they may never grow comfortable with the sensation. In these scenarios, it is important to focus on supporting your child’s emotional and mental needs rather than forcing them to eat the food regardless.
MindChamps Allied Care is dedicated to assessing and providing suitable therapeutic options for children facing such food and feeding difficulties in Singapore. Our team of specialists includes trained child therapists and psychologists who are trained to recognise and support the higher developmental and neurological needs of children from all backgrounds.
Reach out to us today to find out more about our therapy services begin your child’s early intervention journey.